New Orleans’ PGA Tour stop puts the focus on team play

This week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans isn’t a big deal compared to other events on the PGA Tour.  It could turn out big for Doug Ghim and Nick Hardy, two of the Chicago area’s young guns on the circuit, however.

The Zurich Classic is the only full-field team event of the PGA Tour season.  Lots of the top stars skip the two-man team battle to rest up for the bigger events coming up. Ghim. though, saw value in team last year, recruited non-PGA Tour member Justin Suh to be his partner and they cashed in with a tie for 11th finish.

Ghim has a different partner this year in Matthias Schwab, an Austrian in his first season on the PGA Tour.  Hardy, also in his rookie PGA Tour season, will team up with Curtis Thompson, another first-year player who – like Hardy – used the Korn Ferry Tour as a path to the premier circuit.

Now in his second PGA Tour season, Ghim could reflect on his success with Suh to  appreciate what the Zurich Classic offers.

“You just feel a little added weight because usually itj’s just me and my caddie that have high hopes for our golf ball,’’ said Ghim.  “Now there’s two extra people counting on you (his partner and that partner’s caddie).  It could be a season changer.’’

The Ghim-Schwab team is a little further along than Hardy-Thompson.  Though neither qualified for the Masters two weeks ago, both Ghim and Schwab made the cut in last week’s RBC Heritage Classic at Hilton Head, S.C.  Ghim, who grew up in Arlington Heights before starring at the University of Texas, tied for 35th after going 67-69 on the weekend.  Schwab tied for 59th but has three top-10 finishes already in this first PGA Tour season.

Hardy, from Northbrook and the University of Illinois, made 12 of 24 cuts since earning PGA Tour membership but he missed in four of his last five starts.  Not qualified for the Heritage, he returned to the Korn Ferry for competition in a Texas event and missed the cut there.

Thompson’s brother Nicholas is also a PGA Tour member and his sister Lexi is a mainstay on the LPGA circuit.  Curtis’ first PGA Tour season has been a reverse of Hardy’s so far.  Curtis started slowly and has made seven of 15 cuts, but he did play all four rounds in six of his last seven tournaments.

Ghim has improved from his first PGA season to his second.  He was even No. 6 on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list before the Masters, and the top six when the standings are over get automatic berths on the U.S. team for the next Ryder Cup in Italy.  That’s not until the fall of 2023, however,

Ghim has a formula for more immediate gratification at the Zurich Classic, which tees off on Thursday. At least his strategy worked last year, when he challenged Suh to a birdie contest.  It brought out the best in both their games.

“The best way for us to be competitive is to play against each other,’’ said Ghim. “I thought, if he was going to be competitive with me I knew I was going to bring my game, so he had better step in with his. (Suh) ended up beating me, so that’s always good.’’

BITS AND PIECES: Other Illinois players will compete at New Orleans.  D.A. Points is paired with Scott Gutschewski and Dylan Wu with Justin Lower.  The tourney will also make the return to competition of Masters champion Scottie Scheffler.  He’ll play with Ryan Palmer.

Wednesday will decide the 20 club professionals who will qualify for next month’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Oklahoma.  The Illinois PGA had 11 players qualify for the 72-hole event at Barton Creek, in Texas, and six survived the 36-hole cut on Monday. Mike Small, the University of Illinois men’s coach, was in a tie for 16th midway through the competition and the only local player in the top 20 at that point.  Tim Streng, Garrett Chaussard, Frank Hohenadel and Brian Carroll also survived the cut.  So did Brad Marek, a former Arlington Heights resident now living in California.  He was a qualifier for last year’s PGA Championship.